Oxidative Stress - 'Human Rusting'
Just as an iron nail rusts over time, or a chopped apple becomes brown with exposure to oxygen overtime; so our bodies begin to do the same as we age. The reality is, is that we become less functional as the result of the everyday ‘wear and tear’ of life.
What is actually responsible for the deterioration of our functioning? What contributes to my aches and pains and my creaking and squeaking?
Yes, we know that we can blame that extra glass of wine in the evenings; the stressful, fast-paced lives that we live; or even our repeated exposure to environmental toxins such as the exhaust fumes from our cars.
But, what is actually occurring in our cells as we speak?
Small, destructive, oxygen-containing particles are made in our bodies in response to everyday processes - like breathing, exercise or metabolism of food. We name these particles Reactive Oxidative Species (ROS) as they are highly reactive, and have the tendency to destroy anything that crosses its path.
ROS can be beneficial to our bodies in low to moderate amounts as they can improve communication between cells, ensure proper functioning of our immune systems, and help with the expression of our genes. However, in excess amounts, they can damage our cells.
This we term Oxidative Stress.
Now, ROS are highly unstable particles, meaning that they are incomplete or missing an electron. They steal electrons from healthy (complete) cells, ultimately resulting in damage to surrounding cells.
How can we protect ourselves against Oxidative Stress?
Firstly, your body is smarter than you think. We can actually create our own antioxidants! The antioxidants made by our bodies can stablise ROS millions of times per second. Our antioxidant system is made up of many enzymes, which are particles that speed up chemical reactions in the body. The production of these enzymes is largely determined by our genes. Therefore, assessing your unique genetic makeup can give us a clue as to how well you are able to defend yourself against these ROS. These enzymes require very specific nutrients as ‘fuel’ to work optimally, such as Zinc, Manganese, Selenium and Iron.
Although our body’s own antioxidant system is our primary means of fighting against ROS, we require dietary antioxidant’s efforts to assist us in this battle.
ROS can be formed when there is an infection in the body, hence our need for increased Vitamin C when we are sick. Vitamin C along with additional nutrients act as antioxidants - they give an electron to the unstable ROS particle, preventing it from robbing our healthy cells.
It is most beneficial to apply a ‘food first’ approach to attain adequate antioxidants, as opposed to relying on commercial supplementation.
Why rely on my fruits and vegetables?
When obtaining nutrients from food, we can be sure that we are not only getting the necessary vitamins and minerals, but many other phytochemicals known as carotenoids, phenolic acids, flavanols, anthocyanidins, isoflavones, flavanones, and flavones. We know that plant-foods, specifically fruits and vegetables, are richest in antioxidants. The associated advantageous effects of plant food consumption is not attributable to an isolated, specific compound (such as that usually found in a supplement), but rather to the whole fruit or vegetable, as a result of the synergist actions of complex mixtures of phytochemicals and nutrients.
This is not to say that we should never consider supplementation as an addition to good dietary practices. However, it is responsible to consult a health consultant regarding the type and dosage of nutrients consumed in highly concentrated forms, such as in commercial supplements. Your health practitioner will assess your genetic predispositions, current health concerns, quality of your diet, and potential contributors of ROS production when deciding on safe, beneficial recommendations.
It is clear that our bodies require dedicated care and personalized intervention strategies in order to ensure that delicate, intricate processes are functioning optimally in order to prevent disease and enhance wellness. Remember, health is a daily choice.